By Vahan Zanoyan
Three years after the 44-day war, while both the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh remain in a de facto state of war, while an existential threat hangs over both republics, and while the global Armenian community is disoriented, divided, and endangered, we are not any closer to formulating a coherent national discourse around the nation’s challenges. Aside from the main opposing political factions, even seemingly non-partisan analysts, commentators and observers seem to have fallen into one hardened and intolerant position or the other.
The situation is so divisive that some family members either avoid discussing politics during family gatherings, or no longer talk to each other at all due to differing political views. The syndrome has affected long-standing friendships as well. I recently witnessed an acquaintance of mine being subjected to a brutal tongue lashing by his friend of over 30 years, because of his views on Armenia’s current national security strategy.
The diaspora is not immune to the syndrome — quite the contrary, some of the most extreme and intolerant positions hail from the diaspora. These, like their counterpart in Armenia, tend to be divided between either a categorical rejection of the current government, or an almost unconditional support for it; the space in between these two positions, aside from a number of nuanced variations of the two extremes, is generally filled by apathy.
This “civilized” way of managing the situation, i.e., avoiding any substantive discussion of politics, does not bode well for a healthy democratic society. In a post-Soviet culture where it is not customary to have literate debates on government policy in the first place, many issues of critical importance become too cumbersome to enter public discourse, and thus remain “unresolved,” in the sense that it is not clear where the majority of the population stands.
The call for a consequential public discourse does not aim to put the current or any other Administration in the spotlight. Its aim is to build a democratic culture which can generate a majority consensus via literate discourse. Today, we do not have a majority consensus neither in Armenia nor in the Diaspora, unless one considers a crisis in political confidence, apathy, and disillusionment a “consensus.” (N.B.: At the last parliamentary elections in 2021, the voter turnout was 49.37%; less than two years later, the latest polls conducted in March 2023 show that 64% of respondents did not trust any politician, even when 60% considered national security and border issues as the main problems of Armenia.)